The Wars and Famous Last Words are both historical novels; they are also fictive biography / autobiography, as they are perhaps most importantly stories about writing and reading. Certainly they are ‘History as she is never writ’, or rather they are fictions that rewrite history in order to give significance to past events by creating patterns which reveal essential truths about human nature that can only be distilled through time and presented through art. This is an essay about the literariness of Findley’s fictions, about the enigmas he pursues and about his creative invention within the intertextual spaces made possible by preceding fictional discourses. Both of these novels problematise history in so far as they blur the distinctions between referential fact and interpretive fiction, for though the events — some factual and some fictional — happen at the time of World War I ( The Wars') and in the inter-war period and World War II (Famous Last Words), their meaning can only be found ‘here’, i.e. in the narrative constructs which interpret those events in a different historical context from the originals. In this sense both are readings and rewritings of history, The Wars by a narrator sixty years later and Famous Last Words by a narrator whose writings on the wall of the Grand Elysium Hotel are read in the immediate aftermath of the war (1945) and then retold by the novelist with an even later knowledge of endings. In such circumstances, there is no ultimately authoritative reading of history, or as the narrator in Famous Last Words declares, ‘All I have written here is true; except the lies’ (p.59).
Howells, Carol Ann, ‘History as she is never writ’: The Wars and Famous Last Words, Kunapipi, 6(1), 1984.